Irradiation of Foods


Science vol 223, p. 1354, 1984



            While recognizing the induction of poorly characterized "unique by-products" in foods after high-energy irradiation, Marjorie Sun (News and Comment, 17 Feb., p. 667) implies that there is no way in which concentrated doses of such products could be evaluated toxicologically in a manner analogous to high-dose carcinogenicity or teratogenicity testing.  This is certainly not the case.  Stable radiolytic products could be extracted from irradiated foods by various aqueous and nonaqueous solvents, which could then be concentrated and subsequently tested.  Until such fundamental studies are undertaken, there is little scientific basis for accepting industry's assurances of safety.  Similarly, there is little or no basis for accepting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of irradiation as an alternative to ethylene dibromide (EDB) fumigation, let alone for more large-scale use.


            These considerations are yet further emphasized by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler's support of the industry position in her arbitrary rejection of the FDA's proposal for labeling of radiated food.  They are also emphasized by the availability of known safe alternatives to EDB, including aluminum phosphide for grains and could storage for fruits and vegetables.  Public policy on the nation's foods must not be based on reckless gambles and denial of the public's right to basis information and free choice.


Samuel S. Epstein

Department of Preventive Medicine

and Community Health

University of Illinois Medical Center

Box 6998

Chicago  60680


John W. Gofman

Donner Laboratory of Medical Physics

University of California

Berkeley 94720